Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Stagecoach

Those stylish, elegant coaches of yesteryear are so nostalgic, romantic, cozy and quaint. Or perhaps it’s our imagination that makes them so appealing.

The term Stagecoach came about because of the ‘coaches’ that carried passengers along a route in ‘stages’. Stagecoaches could be anything from buckboard wagons to elaborate ‘coaches.’ As long as they were used for public transportation and ran a regularly scheduled route, they were considered stagecoaches. Depending on the route, the number of regular passengers, the weather, and the distance, the coaches would vary, as would the number of horses or mules. Four was the usual number, but six-team coaches were not uncommon, especially for the larger, ‘overland’ stages, and the smaller, shorter coaches and routes were usually pulled by two horses. The average speed was five to twelve miles and hour.

Despite close quarters, long, bumpy and dusty roads, and threats of Indian or outlaw attacks, stagecoaches flourished and were widely used, even after the railroads crossed the nation. The term stationwagon came about when long wagons boasting three wide bench seats came into service for the specific role of carrying passengers to and from railroad stations.

In most vehicles, passengers were provided an average of 15 inches each, and sat with their knees dovetailed with the traveler across from them, and depending on other cargo the stage was carrying, passengers often had to hold their luggage on their laps. Etiquette, and/or, passenger behavior was strictly enforced. Wells Fargo had this list of rules posted:

• Abstinence from liquor is requested, but if you must drink share the bottle. To do otherwise makes you appear selfish and unneighborly.
• If ladies are present, gentlemen are urged to forego smoking cigars and pipes as the odor of same is repugnant to the gentler sex. Chewing tobacco is permitted, but spit with the wind, not against it.
• Gentlemen must refrain from the use of rough language in the presence of ladies and children.
• Buffalo robes are provided for your comfort in cold weather. Hogging robes will not be tolerated and the offender will be made to ride with the driver.
• Don't snore loudly while sleeping or use your fellow passenger's shoulder for a pillow; he or she may not understand and friction may result.
• Firearms may be kept on your person for use in emergencies. Do not fire them for pleasure or shoot at wild animals as the sound riles the horses.
• In the event of runaway horses remain calm. Leaping from the coach in panic will leave you injured, at the mercy of the elements, hostile Indians and hungry coyotes.
• Forbidden topics of conversation are: stagecoach robberies and Indian uprisings.
• Gents guilty of unchivalrous behavior toward lady passengers will be put off the stage. It's a long walk back. A word to the wise is sufficient.

Fares varied, not only due to distance, but class as well.
First class meant you rode all the way.
Second class meant you had to walk at bad places along the road.
Third class meant you had to push the coach when needed, especially on hilly terrain.

Depending on the schedule, stagecoaches would travel all night, stopping only for fresh horses and quick meals. When an overnight stay was included, the coach often arrived around midnight, and left again by six the following morning. Passengers were encouraged to pack food provisions and they were also told not to grease their hair before traveling because dust would stick to it.

Stagecoaches came to an end around 1915, when motor buses took the place of the horse-drawn coaches.

I’ve ridden in a few ‘tourist’ stagecoaches, and the short rides were fun, but I must admit I prefer modern transportation options. However, my heroines—and heroes—do not have that option. Here’s a short clip from my latest work in progress…Unclaimed Bride.

The bitter wind that had trampled upon the leather curtains covering the stage windows and snuck beneath the buffalo robe now piled on the seat, hit her with renewed force. It easily could have stolen her breath away, but Constance Jennings’ first glimpse of her destination already had her lungs locked tight. The thread of hope and optimism she’d held the last few miles vanished. Pinning her quivering bottom lip between her teeth, she twisted to glance back inside the stagecoach. The one other passenger, Reverend Stillman, waved a hand for her to climb down the steps. He was a polite man who’d carried on pleasant conversation during the last leg of her journey, but she highly doubted the people lining the street waited for him to depart.

With a death grip on the door rail, she lowered herself to the ground. As she planted her dress boots on the dirt street, tremors seized her toes, and then traveled, slowly snaked their way all the way to her scalp. Every hair follicle tingled. Engulfed by the heavy wave of anxiety, Constance lifted her gaze to the two dozen men staring from the edge of the dusty road. Her lungs burnt. She parted her lips to let the air escape. A gust of that unrelenting Wyoming wind caught on her headdress. The covering had once been stylish, but now most likely looked as tired and worn out as the rest of her wardrobe. She grabbed the curled straw brim to keep the wind from stealing the hat, and gulped at the swelling in her throat. Which one of the dozen was he? Which of these men was Ashton Kramer—the man who’d ordered a bride?

1 comment:

Paty Jager said...

I love their rules when riding a stage coach!